By Dalton Balthaser
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PORTSMOUTH, R.I. - As his tee time approached, Hermen Dacones didn’t know what putting grip he was going to use before defending his Rhode Island Golf Association Senior Amateur title.
After toying around with different grips in hopes of comfort, Dacones went back to his trusted reverse overlap grip.
Dacones, the defending RIGA Senior Player of the Year, used his red-hot putter and a blistering front nine to card an even-par 71 in the opening round of the 61st RIGA Senior Amateur Championship Tuesday at Montaup Country Club (par 71, 6,132 yards)
“I’ve been feeling good about my game so far this season except for my putting,” said Dacones, 62, of North Kingstown, R.I. “I came out here just before my tee time and switched back to my old partial overlap grip. I’ve been putting so poorly this year that I figured it was time for a change. I convinced myself that I needed to trust my stroke.”
Dacones’ round was the only one at par or better out of the 104 players in the field.
Fierce crosswinds gave players plenty to think about. Mix those winds with firm greens and par becomes a good score.
“I made sure I trusted my yardages today in the windy conditions,” said Dacones. “Not trusting my yardages is my biggest fault as a golfer because there will be a time where I have a number in mind but lay off on the shot because I don’t think it is that long.”
Quinnatisset Country Club’s Dave McNally is his closest chaser after a round of 1-over-par 72.
“I don’t feel any pressure at all being the defending champion and only playing at Montaup about once a year,” said Dacones. “I accomplished something last year in winning the Senior Amateur that I thought I could win but never knew if I could get it done. Winning that event last year was a big moment for me.”
Dacones won the 60th edition at Potowomut Golf Club by two shots over West Warwick Country Club’s Don Wright.
The Kings Crossing Golf Club member sprinted out of the gates with three birdies on his opening nine.
He rolled in a 15-footer on No. 5 (par 5, 500 yards) after pitching a 60-degree wedge from 50 yards.
Dacones continued the momentum with a smooth 3-hybrid from 210 yards on No. 7 (par 5, 521 yards) that finished 35 feet away. He’d get down in two for a birdie but had to make a six-footer to do so.
A smooth 8-iron to 15 feet on No. 8 (par 3, 125 yards) rounded out his three birdies on the front nine.
The back nine wasn’t as easy. Through the first eight holes on the closing side, Dacones was 4 over, seven shots worse than his front nine. But a closing birdie on No. 18 (par 4, 300 yards) kept a good taste in his mouth.
“I love the competition,” said Dacones. “Playing golf after retirement has helped keep me in good shape and since I still want to travel and do some fun things, playing the game is important.”
He’ll look to become the first person to successfully defend the Senior Amateur title since Green Valley Country Club’s Paul Quigley (2004-05).
“I need to stay aggressive like I was today,” said Dacones. “If I continue to trust my putting, I feel like I have a good chance to defend my title and win tomorrow.”
Montaup’s Mark Murphy used a 4-hybrid to ace No. 12 (par 3, 173 yards). It was his first career hole-in-one.